Sunday, February 7, 2016

Little Erik’s Hits and Misses

By Emma Krasov

Little Erik, a family drama, now playing at the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, California, is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1894 “Little Eyolf” – a lesser known play, not as often performed in the theatres around the world as the other masterpieces of the great Norwegian.  Nonetheless, adapting from a master always has its indelible perks, no matter how contemporary, simplified, or sometimes superficial the new approach might be. The solid foundation of the plot and character structure is there, and infusing the action with crowd-pleasing familiar details of today almost always is a surefire way to success.
Adapted [with a changed ending], and transported into our day and time, and in San Francisco, the play is written and directed by the Bay Area’s own Mark Jackson, and presents a rather uneven spectacle. It seems that all elements from writing and directing to acting tend to diminish from one character to another; strong outlines and bold strokes fading and receding as if in the Pacific fog…

The character of Erik’s unwilling mother Joie (excellently performed by Marilee Talkington) – a strong and attractive business woman, and a bread winner in the family – is easily recognizable with all its inherent negativity, yet unexpectedly admirable in its straightforward honesty and unconcealed vulnerability.
A child-actor Jack Wittmayer as the little cripple Erik is nothing short of miraculous. His very disability is performed with so much physical persuasion that the viewers have to wonder until the curtain time if the kid is really just playing his part or was cast for it for his physical defect. Not to mention his acting skills that shine throughout the role.      

Joie’s husband, Freddie (Joe Estlack), who is supposed to be his wife’s gentle parasite with an idea to write a great novel about human responsibility, but mostly just wandering the world and enjoying his new self-imposed penance as a devoted father, comes across a little too mushy and spineless for his mate, even more so for his two mates (as the story reveals).
Freddie’s paternal sister, Andi (Mariah Castle) is supposed to shock with revelations, simultaneously scandalous and soothing, but instead leaves the audience cold. It’s hard to point the exact reason for the viewers’ indifference to her fate, but many things she says and does just don’t ring true. This is especially disheartening since the accents in the play are so obviously moved to Andi as the title character that our highest expectations rest with her.
Then comes the supernatural/folk/mythical [think Pied Piper] character of The Rat Wife. Performed with a lot of skill by Wilma Bonet, it remains highly confusing in its contradiction between a stereotype of a Hispanic nanny/housekeeper and vicious implications she utters. Even though The Rat Wife arrives on stage with the initial light and sound effect, and with a stare that’s supposed to startle, the role lacks real creepiness and sends out a rather unclear message.

The character of Bernie (Greg Ayers), the architect of the family’s weekend home in the mountains and a hopeful friend of Andi, is also performed with a lot of skill, but on its own delivers little information as to who this guy really is and what is he doing in this family drama in relation to the child and the other adults.  
The least believable part of the play is its ending, and while the original version, granted, might seem too sentimental for the contemporary age, what we get instead is bordering on ridiculous.  
Despite all its imperfections, this new play, developed at Aurora, is definitely worth seeing – for the abovementioned reason of being adapted from the great playwright as well as for the writer/director’s provocative vision, the actors’ genuine involvement, and the outstanding work of the creative team (Nina Ball – sets, Christine Crook – costumes, Heather Basarab – lights, Matt Stines – sound, Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky – video).
Little Erik is playing now through February 28 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA.
More information and tickets at: 510-843-4822 or 
Images: courtesy Aurora Theatre Company.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Zinfandel Experience 2016 is Coming to San Francisco

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Zinfandel Experience is a three-day wine and culinary extravaganza attracting wine lovers from around the world to San Francisco, California. Experience the classic character of Zinfandel at five extraordinary events, including a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and the Grand Tasting, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs and artisanal food purveyors.
February 25-27, 2016
Grand Tasting, Saturday, February 27 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Sonoma County Comes to San Francisco for the Big Game

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

Sonoma Wine Country Scramble is not some smart breakfast omelet from one of the many distinguished Sonoma chefs, even though it started in an ungodly early hour on a windy wintry morning.
Last Sunday’s Sonoma Scramble was a smart one-day experience organized for the San Francisco media by the Sonoma County Tourism, Sonoma County Winegrowers and Sonoma County Vintners to familiarize the food and wine scribblers with the newest developments in “the best county in California.”
A comfy tour bus from Pure Luxury, coffee and pastries provided by the generous hosts, and good company quickly alleviated the harmful effects of early rising. And then the wonderful, festive, full of life and smiles “Sonoma County experience” kicked in for real.

As is customary in the best homes of Europe, our day in Sonoma started with a glass of champagne… or three – at the famed Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards.

Hailing from Spain, and carrying on the great tradition of Spanish cava that has to be aged in caves, Gloria Ferrer boasts its own cave cellar, an exhibition of multiple awards won by the brand, an art collection of vintage and contemporary champagne glasses, Bubbles and Bites room for club members, and a sunlit tasting room with an outdoor terrace.

In addition to tasting Gloria Ferrer’s pinot noir- and chardonnay-derived bubblies the guests can enjoy a stunning view of vineyards and mountains from the winery’s enviable top-of-the-hill location.

I must admit that in all my life I’ve never opened a bottle of champagne before. It used to be always someone else who opened it for me. My Sonoma Scramble visit to Gloria Ferrer has changed that.  I was entrusted with a precious bottle of Royal Cuvee 2007 with its distinct purple label and golden foil, first produced in 1987 for the royal family of Spain. Since then all other Royal houses of Europe got it, and the White House now places its orders for the Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee brut, made of hand-picked Carneros grapes, year after year.

I felt the weight of responsibility on my hands holding the Double Gold winner from the Sonoma Country Harvest Fair 2015, of which only 3000 cases were made. I was advised to hold the French handmade bottle “like a baby,” to gently release the cage, to rotate the bottle until the cork gives (pointing away from the spectators) and finally to release the cork almost noiselessly and without spilling a drop of the perfectly balanced blend, aromatic and full-flavored from the late harvest.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, where we ventured next, introduced a new program, implemented this year as part of Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures.

Literally in front of our eyes, the winery launched a self-guided Vineyard Walk – a 1.2 mi tour with a handout map and 10 interpretive stops along its certified sustainable vineyards. 

The Vineyard Walk, during which we were voluntarily accompanied by the winery dog, Will, was enlivened by a tolling bell (made in Assisi, Italy) from the winery’s own bell tower, and of course with the tasting of St. Francis richly-flavored distinct wines – 2014 viognier from Wild Oak Vineyard, 2012 cabernet sauvignon from Lagomarsino Vineyard, and 2012 merlot from Behler Vineyard.

At Farmhouse Inn, owned and operated by Catherine and Joe Bartolomei, siblings and fifth generaiton Forestville farmers, our group sat down for a white-tablecloth lunch, prepared by the Estate Chef Trevor Anderson.

Amuse bouche of red radishes covered in miso butter, garnished with beet pesto and topped with smoked tea leaves was the most delicious radish I’ve ever tried!

The first course – pork belly and candy cap mushroom hash with hedgehog mushrooms and pickled mustard seeds was paired with Moonlight Brewing Company’s “Misspent Youth” dry pale ale – a classic American pale ale – soft and smooth with slight bitterness.

Second course – beef tenderloin, braised beef arancini and fava leaves – was matched with medium-bodied 2012 Lost and Found Winery pinot noir from Russian River Valley, its label adorned with an international symbol for lost and found – an umbrella and a glove under a question mark.

Our dessert course, prepared by the Pastry Chef Phil Ogiela, presented Gianduja ice cream, pear cider gelee, and hazelnut lace with Asian pear slices and caramelized hazelnut, and 2014 Tilted Shed Ciderworks Barred Rock barrel aged cider.    

To walk off all the delicious calories we consumed at lunch, our group made a short excursion into Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where we were greeted by the knowledgeable docent Glen Blackley who took us on a short trail through the majestic redwood grove. Here, walking into a tree trunk hollowed by a fire I felt as small as a mouse, but it was a safe, magical, fairy tale-like feeling…

And then there was the Barlow – formerly the world’s largest Gravenstein apples processing facility, and now a bustling marketplace of Sebastopol’s diversely talented producers of art, wine, food, spirits, and various crafts.

Tibetan Gallery & Studio is a working artist’s studio and a retail shop of exotic jewelry and fascinating trinkets. The artist, Tashi Dhargyal is currently working on a giant painting – the first thanbochi (a very large thangka for special prayer ceremonies) painted by a Tibetan outside of Tibet. The project is going to take up to five years, and when completed, the canvas will be two stories high. It is being made with hand-ground mineral pigments and 24K gold leaf. When finished, it will tour museums before being donated to a monastery.

Spirit Works Distillery produces grain-to-glass vodka, gin, barrel gin, sloe gin, barrel reserve sloe gin, straight wheat whisky and straight rye whiskey – all tasting amazing and bottled beautifully.

MacPhail Tasting Lounge provides a complete tasting experience of MacPhail Family Wines. Exceptional pinot noir is the trademark varietal of the family winery, made of fruit coming from the most coveted vineyards of the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. The wines are paired with charcuterie, artisanal cheeses from local makers, and fruit jams made in house.  

At the end of the day of wonders, our group was treated to a Winemakers Dinner at Zazu kitchen + farm – the award-winning genuine farm-to-table restaurant, owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team – celebrity chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart, founders of the Black Pig Meat Company.

The dinner started with Black Pig antipasti and the freshest salad of chicories, blood oranges, pomegranates, and pistachios, and featured creative main courses, derived from the Sonoma County bounty, like porcini noodle Stroganoff with Sebastopol mushrooms, arugula, and Redwood Hill goat cheese.

The attending winemakers were introducing their outstanding wines: Balletto Vineyards & Winery – Anthony Beckman (2012 brut rose from Russian River Valley); Laurel Glen Vineyard – Bettina Sichel (2012 Sonoma Mountain Estate cabernet sauvignon) and The Callings - Sandy Robertson (2014 pinot noir from Russian River Valley).
Sonoma County is an official destination partner of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, and through Sunday, February 7, 2016 “Taste of Sonoma Wine Lounge” is located in San Francisoc’s Super Bowl City: Taste of Sonoma Wine Lounge - Schedule, Hours and List of Wineries (Jan 30 - Feb 7, 2016)

Before, during, and after the Big Game, Sonoma County has more than 400 wineries and more than 40 breweries, distilleries, and cider houses. Indulge in food that’s fresh from the farm or sea. Relax in high-end resorts and spas or invite the gang to stay in a vacation home. Here's how you can get to Sonoma County.
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Friday, January 29, 2016

New Orleans: Jazz, Bourbon, and Powdered Sugar

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov


In America, the beautiful, not many cities have their own face, their unique character. In the majority of American cities an observant traveler often experiences a kind of déjà vu: street names start with Main and delve into a roster of Presidents, or just go through alphabetical and numerical orders; the same bank and retailer logos bookend every street in every town in every state, and similarly dressed folks buzz around, running their identical chores.   

New Orleans, Louisiana (or NOLA, as its dwellers call their passionately beloved city) falls out of this routine like a golden nugget from gray sand.

NOLA is a constant celebration, for a reason or no reason, officiated by the motto, Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! which means in French, “Let the Good Times Roll!”

The good times are mostly self-made by the suave, upbeat and resilient residents of New Orleans, since the fate is not always favorable, and the circumstances are often detrimental.

Throughout its colorful history the city withstood yellow fever epidemics, floods and tornadoes, social and political turmoil, and not too long ago – the infamous Hurricane Katrina and its devastating aftermath.    

And yet, the city is constantly bustling with creative energy, attracting tourists and artists from all corners of the world, drawn to its indelible optimism, its legends and traditions, and its generous spirit.  

A Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour on a double-decker bus by City Sightseeing New Orleans will take you to the Garden District, where the ancient sidewalks are blown up by the roots of century-old Virginia live oaks; their branches covered with bright-green sprouts of Resurrection fern and pale swaying moss beards… Here, the houses of native Cajuns and Creoles, and the newly arriving after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 American settlers, stand next to each other in stark contrast of architectural styles, daily habits, and life philosophy.

The bus rides past the gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, the city’s patron saint; around the French Quarter, stops at Jackson Square with St. Louis Cathedral – the oldest in the United States (since 1794), and visits sites as diverse as The National World War II Museum, Louisiana Superdome, Mardi Gras World (the largest in the world workshop of carnival floats and costumes), and several historic cemeteries.
Those are called “cities of the dead” for a reason. Spectacular crypts and mausoleums form streets and squares lined with palms and elms. The city dwellers learned to bury their dead above ground long ago, after Mississippi floods washed out the coffins from the graves in the below-the-sea-level areas of New Orleans… Since then people were carefully choosing their “last real estate” to accommodate families, social circles, and professional associations. A whole fire brigade is buried in a vault at Lafayette Cemetery. In times of mass disasters the demand was overwhelming the supply. According to the historical chronicles, a record number of 37 family members were buried in the same grave during the yellow fever outbreak of 1878.  

The history is alive on the streets of the Big Easy. Napoleon House Bar and Café on Chartres Street is located in a 1797 building erected by the then city mayor to meet and greet Emperor Napoleon in New Orleans.
That plan was destroyed by the Louisiana Purchase, but the Mayor Girod House is a National Historic Landmark, and while on the first floor you can indulge in the house specialties like Pimm’s Cup cocktail and mufuletta sandwich, the second floor, almost completely intact since its construction, is now open for weddings and other special events.

Although the nearby Bourbon Street is crowded with boisterous out-of-town revelers day and night, Hotel Le Marais around the corner offers a quiet respite to a weary traveler. This chic French Quarter boutique hotel features cozy, well-appointed rooms with contemporary design, four-star amenities, included breakfast, and friendly personable service.

The hotel’s lively bar Vive! opens into a courtyard with a heated swimming pool, and serves signature cocktails; the first one upon your arrival – complimentary!  

There’s a number of great eateries in a short walking distance from Le Marais. On the second floor of the classic Parisian patisserie Sucré with colorful macarons and eclairs in the shop windows there’s a newly-open upscale haute cuisine restaurant Salon by Sucré.
In addition to select international wines, artisanal beers, and creative cocktails, one of the brand founders and the acclaimed chef, Tariq Hanna offers its guests a refined menu of enticing French-inspired dishes.
On the Amuse list there’s an amazing combo of Belgian fries of thrice-fried potato with chive cream and American bowfin caviar elegantly served in a porcelain egg shell. Another amazing creation is called Corn Pups and presents “lollypops” of Mortadella in corndog batter with honey mustard.

On the Savory part of the menu there’s a not-to-be-missed Foieklawah – a whimsical and delightful construction of seared foie gras, pistachio, fig jam and yogurt in Phyllo dough.

The Brennan’s Restaurant was originally opened on Bourbon Street in 1946, but later moved to the Royal Street location into a historic building constructed by the great grandfather of Edgar Degas!
Now, after a thorough restoration, the restaurant is one of the city’s best, with positively Impressionist atmosphere, impeccable service, and Creole cuisine with staples like turtle soup, fried squab, and classic steak in brandy sauce.

Breakfast at Café Beignet on Bourbon Street is bound to be festive – even at an early morning hour a jazz singer is entertaining the fans of music and delicate, crisp, generously covered in powdered sugar beignets, served hot from the oven.
A non-stop 24-hour service is offered at the world-famous Café du Monde known for NOLA’s traditional chicory coffee and beignets, beignets, beignets!

Great jazz musicians play nightly at the Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse inside the posh Royal Sonesta Hotel. Dim lights, cozy tables for two, red curtains and velvet armchairs immediately transport you into the golden era of classic jazz.

The best evenings in New Orleans are spent on Frenchmen Street, just down the Mississippi river from the French Quarter. It’s a hotbed of jazz clubs, bars, cafes, and various street musicians, tirelessly performing the most romantic, most profoundly-touching, most popular music in the world! The majority of places ask you to buy just one drink and revel all night. That’s what I could’ve done many more nights, vaguely daydreaming about the good times, if it weren’t for my too short visit to the golden NOLA.  

Find all necessary information about traveling to New Orleans, LA at: